IBM Robot Challenge X

The tenth and final IBM Robo Challenge takes place tomorrow. We have teams from 12 schools descending upon IBM’s South Bank building to take part in a series of robotics challenges.

We received this email from Nicola Schofield at Merton Park, describing their teams experience preparing for the competition.  It was such a great description of the project we asked if we could share it. 

Over to Nicola….

“I wanted to take the opportunity in advance to thank London CLC and IBM for inviting us to participate in this challenge and to explain what a difference it has made in school.


  • We have taken the view that it’s the learning, not the winning, that’s imperative here (although there is definitely something of a competitive spirit from the children!) and we have concentrated on teaching the children (in this case, learning together) the skills they need e.g. programming, engineering, maths, teamwork, debugging, resilience, perseverance etc rather than just developing a “winning ” strategy. We’re going for the long-term lasting benefits.
  • This means that the children are genuinely completing the whole challenges themselves with little input from adults. They are loving it and their teamwork is super and very fluid. They may not have the “best” models but they are super-proud as they have done it all themselves.
  • We have experienced several breakthrough “lightbulb” moments – always such a joy  🙂
  • We have “acquired/ adopted” four year 5 children who have also taken an interest. They are lovely. They obviously won’t be coming to the competition but have been appearing at most sessions and are so helpful in every way. Their involvement will also ensure a learning legacy as they will be Robot Learning Leaders next year when the current year 6’s are no longer with us 🙁

Nothing is or will be perfect but the enthusiasm and growing confidence is palpable. It’s been hard work, but the learning journey for the staff involved will, of course, have lasting curriculum impact. Personally, I have also so appreciated this opportunity to get to know this small group of children so much better. They are a  delight. The learning opportunities that this challenge affords for the children are numerous and sometimes unexpected:

  • Maths – understanding and contextualising Pi to understand and calculate wheel rotations for movement – this was hard but we relished the opportunity to teach maths in context and the children have commented on how much this approach helps their learning.  (pupil I said, in the first session, “I hate Pi” – pupil L’s response: “Well, you’ll just have to get a job working with square things then”!) Maths confidence has improved and it has also highlighted some areas for further practice(decimals, converting units of measurement)
  • Science/ engineering – understanding that one motor rotation only rotates the wheel once, but that by using the right gear ratios you can make the wheel turn eg 4 times for every 1 motor rotation. A revelation!  More maths ie ratios. Also understanding friction and power. And merely visualising your build model and choosing the best brick pieces to build with.
  • Programming – the children have had no problems at all getting to grips with the software. We talked about this and they think it’s because they have learned so many different programming languages over the last few years that it’s now an intuitive skill. This is reaffirming for us as teachers – our curriculum is working!
  • Debugging – understanding frustrations and limitations – battery power, 2 motors not in sync (can’t address this), friction due to floor surfaces etc. Resilience and perseverance also good qualities here!
  • Teamwork – I like to think we always work well as a team but the children have excelled. No squabbling, lots of mutual support – not just when asked for but everyone looking out for each other and encouraging their teammates. It’s been hard only having one robot as they all need it at the same time to test their programs. They have learned to work around this.
  • Creativity – I love that there are creative and musical challenges which require a different type of thought. The physicality of the dance development has been interesting – they are actually dancing the moves themselves before replicating them on the robot.
  • Confidence – some of our team were not particularly confident in their own abilities. To watch them blossom and develop self-confidence in a small team but with a complex and multi-faceted project has been such a pleasure.
  • Girls & STEM – an interesting discussion last week when they realised that every team had to have a boy and a girl. Although we have talked about women in STEM before, they genuinely couldn’t understand why the teams had forced partners. Their own experiences (both sexes) are that there’s no difference (pupil Y said, indignantly, “But both boys and girls have the same brains inside our heads”!).  At school they often work with a learning partner of a different sex – this is natural for them. They began to wonder when in life this inequality arose and were outraged when they googled “Engineer” clipart and only men came up! So they wanted to include a slide about this in their presentation.
  • Risk Analysis/ Compromise – in some of the challenges they have had to make hard decisions – do they make their speed model slower as it’s more stable and goes straighter? (Yes to this). Do they change the Dancing Robot costume as the robot tends to topple over or the head falls off? (No, they have gone for peril. I can’t watch)”

Thanks Nicola.

Good luck to all schools tomorrow, if you want to follow all the action tomorrow, check out our live blog –

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to get edtech news and views, free resources and reviews direct to your inbox every Thursday lunchtime – including a weekly ‘give it a try’ app or tool recommendation.

If you would like to contact us please click here.